Friday, December 20, 2013

Celebrity Divorce Without Tabloids: It Can Be Done!

Without noise, paparazzi, or even appearance on a public docket, Tim Duncan and his ex finalized their divorce by settling it, in a non-public document.  As with the Schwarzenegger/Shriver settlement, they decided that a long bitter public court battle wasn't anyone's best career move.

...and incidentally, an acknowledgement for the pointer and a hat tip, to Peter Salem of the AFCC,  whose (co-edited) Family and Divorce Mediation: Models, Techniques and Applications was name-checked in the Onion article about Duncan!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Death Row Inmates and Custodial Rights

29 year old Nancy Gonzalez was a federal corrections officer when she was impregnated by death row inmate Ronell Wilson who has been convicted of murdering two police officers. Their son, Justus, is now seven months old is in the custody of one of Gonzalez’s relatives. Wilson request for parental rights has been denied since he is already "civilly dead". Gonzalez has lost custody of Justus since she intentionally became pregnant during the commission of a crime (having sex with a death row inmate while a correction’s officer), knowing that neither parent could care for the child.

Gonzalez also admitted to going through an "alcohol and cocaine binge" when she was eight months pregnant and to also driving while intoxicated with Justus in the car at least twice.

So it appears, at least in New York, death row inmates lose custodial rights to their children since they are considered "civilly dead". 

Friday, December 13, 2013

Duty to Disclose

Stuart Strumwasser and Jennifer Johnson got a divorce in New York in 2007. Shortly before filing for divorce, Johnson told Strumwasser that she was going to San Francisco to visit her brother. While in San Francisco, Johnson purchased stock in Twitter. She filed for divorce six months later. The stock was never disclosed or addressed in the divorce settlement. Strumwasser discovered the stock well after the divorce was finalized. As part of the divorce settlement, Johnson was ordered to pay $2,465 per month in child support although he was making a modest income because Johnson demanded he pay support based on income substantially higher than his actual income.

That Twitter stock is now valued at between $10 and $50 million. Strumwasser is requesting $120,000 plus 30% of her Twitter shares.

In California, if a spouse fails to disclose an asset, it is considered an omitted asset. The court reserves jurisdiction (the power to resolve the issue) over the disposition of omitted assets even after a judgment is entered. If the court finds that the omission was intentional or fraudulent, then there are consequences to the party who fails to disclose. Such consequences  can include assigning the entire asset or the entire value of the asset to the other spouse regardless of whether that asset would have been considered community or separate property. Since the penalties can be this severe, it’s important to always disclose everything during a dissolution. In California, spouses not only have a duty to disclose everything (assets and debts) to the other party, they have a duty to update any financial information if it changes during the case. 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Family Law Goes To The Movies

There’s a “Winter RomCom” which bears on family law this season: Vince Vaughn’s comedy of assisted-reproductive-technology, “Delivery Man” (short non-spoiler synopsis: he’s been a artificial insemination donor, and discovers that, due to a paperwork snafu, he’s the father of 500+ children). Haven’t seen it yet, but I’m hoping it has a bit more of legal reality infused in it than past “family law” movies, comic or serious, including “Mrs. Doubtfire”, “Kramer v. Kramer”, “Intolerable Cruelty” (a prenup comedy) and “Next Best Thing”, a fairly dismally received film (Rotten Tomato-meter: 19%)  on which, I must admit, I received a screen credit (I and my partner are right there, between the caterer and Madonna’s yoga consultant), but couldn’t manage to get director to make the courtroom scenes quite right.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Believe Half of What You See*: The "Skier's Fetus Custody Case", And Other Internet Rumors

To say that the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act   (UCCJEA) isn't usually the stuff of the internet tabloids, and the "entertainment news" shows and sites is an understatement.   So when it does make an appearance,  it's frankly not horribly surprising when the tabloids, reputable online news outlets, and even the "Grey Lady" of American news media, don't get the details exactly right.

The short version of the story (and I haven't read the full trial court record either in New York or in California) seems to be that in May, a New York judicial officer made an odd, and fairly clearly wrong-headed decision on the issue of custody jurisdiction, kicking the case back to California.  A judge in California, faced with an apparent "we don't want it!" from the New York court, then decided to act, since, at that point, no other court was willing to do so.  Several months later, the appellate court in New York, in what is characterized as a "scathing" opinion, reversed the New York trial court's mistake.

Is any of this really news?   Judges (and other judicial officers) sometimes make wrong decisions.  Sometimes, they even make stupidly wrong decisions.  That's what the appellate process is about.

*"People say believe half of what you see, and none of what you hear."   Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong:   Heard It Through the Grapevine